It was a slow year, given the recession, at Pique architecture firm, so the designers scared up their own guerrilla project. They'd done this before—it's the spiritual equivalent of pro bono work for architects—but not at this scale. They went to the Olympic Sculpture Park, where director Peter Jahnke's daughter had climbed on one of the orange chairs set near Alexander Calder's Eagle in the center of the park. Jahnke had a hunch. He suspected that the chairs are the single-most controlling design element at the park.
Setting up design-spy cameras on a nearby rooftop, the architects tested their theory by watching and mapping parkgoers' behavior. People moved unpredictably through the park, ignoring the implicit instructions of the Z-paths and forging their own totally varied ways—except when it came to the chairs. Wherever the chairs were placed, people congregated. The architects changed their formations and used time-lapse photography to measure the effects, compiled in a wondrously nerdy 16-page report full of graphs and photographs (find the report at here).
To harness the power of the chairs, they devised an intervention. What if, instead of the chairs controlling you, you controlled the chairs? Wouldn't that be more fitting for the nonfenced, free-admission, semidemocratic nature of the sculpture park? "The park's unpopular 'do not touch the sculpture or deviate from the path' policy" is a problem in need of solutions, the architects wrote in their plan. And if people could decide where to put their chairs, and cameras could capture those decisions, then that footage could constitute a collective work of public art in itself—a continuously unfolding drawing of the park.
So the firm took a proposal to Seattle Art Museum, which owns the park. The proposal calls for cubbylike shelves, each cubby containing an orange chair made of strong, light honeycomb fiberglass and shaped like a scalene triangle. Each side being different, the surfaces of the chairs form an undulating pattern on the shelves depending on how people put them back; empty cubbies can be sat in, too.
Artists have used the power of furniture at this park before. Pedro Reyes's woven chair-pods dangled from the ceiling inside the park's pavilion in 2007. Roy McMakin's trompe l'oeil bronze lawn chair installed near Eagle speaks to the "weight" of such a fixture, and McMakin's Love & Loss presents pieces of furniture shaped like the letters of those two words. Pique's proposal (it needs a good title) incorporates surveillance. Is that a little creepy? Yes. Are you watched at the park anyway, by guards and cameras? Yes. Highlighting the park's public-private tension and offering a vehicle for responding (artist Manu Luksch, for instance, uses the English CCTV system to create choreographed films in public places) could be a fascinating exercise. Thanks, recession!